BEIJING: Days before the informal summit between President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi met Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Mohammed Asif on the sidelines of a meeting of defence and foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Beijing.
Wang emerged from the meeting to tell reporters China was “ready to work together with our Pakistani brothers to undertake the historical mission of national rejuvenation and achieve the great dream of national prosperity and development”.
“In this way, our iron friendship with Pakistan will never rust and be tempered into steel,” said the Chinese state councillor and foreign minister. Asif responded in matching rhetoric, describing China as “our iron brother”, says a report published in South China Morning Most (SCMP).
Since Pakistan and China signed a 1963 treaty to resolve their differences over the status of their shared border in Gilgit-Baltistan, a region of Kashmir also claimed by India, their hyperbole of bilateral friendship has mostly been matched with actions.
After Xi unveiled the US$46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – which has since risen in potential value to US$60 billion – as the showcase project of his pet Belt and Road Initiative in 2015, the Chinese leader characterised it as a thank you for Pakistan’s key role in helping communist China establish diplomatic ties with the US and end its international isolation in 1971.
And although, for geopolitical reasons, Pakistan cannot say as much, it has China to thank for enabling it to keep pace with India’s strategic programme, through the transfer of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology between 1989 and 1992.
The two have drawn ever closer as China’s Belt and Road-driven expansion across Asia has brought it into direct competition with the US, India and Japan, while Pakistan’s relations with the US, its other major international partner, have deteriorated markedly.
Wang is understood to have reassured Asif that any progress arising from the Xi-Modi summit would not compromise China’s relations with Pakistan. But the very day after Wang’s rust-and-steel bombast, the deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy in Islamabad, Lijian Zhao, tweeted a section of an editorial in the Daily Times, saying “Beijing has been asking Islamabad to engage with New Delhi and keep tensions to a minimum.”
China and India may be in a period of detente, but this doesn’t mean China will want to undercut the deep trust in the China-Pakistan partnership, especially with the critical role Islamabad plays in [the Belt and Road Initiative.
The concerns rise from Indian press reports that Beijing and New Delhi have been quietly discussing an unlikely compromise resolution of India’s opposition to Belt and Road projects located in the Pakistan-administered half of Kashmir, through which flows its only overland link to China.—INP